Whether it’s the price of college, climate change, or the operation of basic technology, there seem to be clear generational differences in the ways we see the world. Historically, these generational gaps have largely been tame, but as we move into a decade where the future of the planet is likely at stake, our generation (gen Z) has seemed to reach a breaking point. An area where many wouldn’t expect to find such a generational divide is when it comes to Israel; after all, we’re all Jews no matter how old we are. However, while the opinions of Jews of any age vary, there are specific historical markers that may explain a fragmented perspective in the community. Understanding why people think a certain way may be the key to producing a more unified Israel lobby for the future.
The Grandparents: When looking at a specific generation’s relationship with Israel and conflict, it’s important to recognize the baseline for these perspectives. People anywhere from 1946 to 1964 are generally classified as Baby Boomers. This generational chunk of people has not only caused a rift in population distribution in terms of age but has also had an enormous impact on the United States. The Jewish “Boomers” raised in this time period grew up not seeing Israel as a constant, like we do today. Throughout their childhood, they likely witnessed events such as the 6-Day War in 1967, where the very existence of the state of Israel was at risk. This group was well into adulthood when the Yom Kippur War nearly wiped Israel off the map in 1973. The “So what?” aspect of this timeline is the impact that these events had on this generation’s view towards conflict. While this view is far from unanimous, many Baby Boomers see Israel as something to be protected at all costs. This idea is very difficult for moving towards peace as the intense conflicts with the Arab nations that border Israel loom in the not-so-distant past.
The Parents: The children of Baby Boomers and anyone born from 1965 to 1979 are largely described as Generation X. With a new era comes a new set of people looking to find a solution to conflict that was around 50 years old when this generation reached adulthood. Many of Gen X witnessed the Camp David Accords in 1978 as children, growing up with peace on the horizon; as adults, this group saw the era of Yitzchak Rabin and the signing of the Oslo accords with Egypt— only to see it come crashing down with the assassination of Rabin and leaked information that Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was not intending to ever sign a final peace agreement. These events that they lived through bred distrust with Palestinian society and an overall lack of faith in the peace process. While many people this age may want peace, it often looks different than what people of our generation imagine.
The older siblings, cousins, counselors: The Millennial generation is loosely defined as anyone born between the years 1981 to 1996. The people who grew up during this time period experienced the Second Intifada from 2000-2005. The Second Intifada from Palestinian perspective was a time of massive uprising against Israel. However, Israelis saw it as a prolonged terror campaign perpetuated by the Palestinian National Authority and various Palestinian militant groups. In these 5 years, over 1,000 Israelis were killed and over 3,300 Palestinians were killed, mainly from suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. People who grew up during this dark time in Israeli history may approach the conflict with an aspect of fear driving their opinions. The peace process appears much more bleak from this perspective, especially for the Israeli kids who grew up being taught to be suspicious of every unattended bag and every unfamiliar face.
Me: As the kids of Generation Z move into adulthood, we are starting to see the effects of having a decade of (relatively) tame relations with Palestinian society. After over 70 years of conflict, it seems natural that the new generation attempts to shake off the wrongs of the past and learns to coexist. Millions of dollars have been poured into programs that connect Israelis and Palestinians from a young age to dissolve the cultural tension that often leads to political tension. If someone is able to make a connection with a person from a different background, the prejudices that we learn from a young age melt away and we begin to see other people as exactly that— people and not “the other.”
Conclusion: The purpose of this is not to demean other generations as close-minded or to try and generalize large groups of people into these philosophical boxes. The purpose is to show what the historical and environmental factors that shape our opinions are. The first step in talking to someone who you disagree with is understanding why they might have a different view than you. Having a different opinion than the people who raised you is not always bad, especially when you can have the knowledge to point to the reasons for why you think a certain way.